January 14, 2006

Margaret and Stream of Consciousness

The second day of the Writer's Workshop 'Authentic Voices' conducted by Margaret Mascarenhas at the Fundacao Oriente was unconventional in as much as it exasperated and thrilled. As she handed us yet another exercise I remember thinking 'Wow, she sure is a mean one.'

Margaret called the class to attention. Like on the first day, we began yesterday with 'journalling' or what Margaret called 'stream of consciousness writing'.

"Write continuously until I say 'stop'," she said. She had insisted on this exercise in her previous workshop too, before beginning each writing session. “The rules of 'journaling' are: Don't think, write whatever comes to your mind, even if it's rubbish," her voice pierced the silence in the room, drowning the low hum of the air conditioner at the back. Beyond the room the rain fell hard, drowning noises from the street. It rained heavily yesterday.

"Most writers are schizophrenic," she continued, "There is a constant conflict between the writer as a creator and the writer as an editor. The editor is mostly in control, telling the writer-part 'write this', 'write that'. If the editor in you starts talking during journaling', ask him to shut up. All that matters is - don't edit, don't cross out, don't worry about punctuation. Just keep your hand to it, and write." About then she smiled on noting surprised eyebrows of those confronting this for the first time. Absurdity, even if just on the surface, draws attention, and hence would appear to have a definite purpose. I thought her crisp voice, unmistakably American, having spent time in that country after majoring in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley, complimented her persona, sharp nose et al. She would make for a good teacher, I thought.

I had only recently finished reading her first novel 'Skin', published by Penguin over a year ago, telling the story of Pagan Miranda de Flores reverting to her roots, traveling from America to Goa, long after her paternal family disowned her Goan father after his marriage to her American mother. Her writing fairly raced, chronicling a fascinating story, lean in patches, and expansive otherwise.

Margaret stepped behind to the board that hung from a hook between the two windows that opened into a small garden adjacent to the road that led to the building. With her left hand she picked up a piece of chalk and wrote on the board the first few lines that she expected us to begin writing 'our rubbish' with. The sentence read : 'When I die, I will miss ....'

Then turning to face us she commanded, "Start with this take-off line," pointing to the intriguing sentence on the board behind her.

Wendell Rodricks, Cecil Pinto and I shared the same table. We put our heads to our writing pads and began writing all the things we would miss out on after dying. Elsewhere in the spacious hall, others were busy with their pens, and their dying thoughts. Margaret's voice rang out again, drilling into perplexed minds her faith in this exercise.

"Don't worry," she said, "I'll not be asking any of you to read out this part of your writing. This is just for yourself, to clear your mind for the serious writing ahead, to clear it of all the influences of the day as it prepares to focus on the task at hand. I use the method regularly before beginning writing, and have found it to be very useful." Then she narrated an incident where her friend had evinced curiosity in her notebooks containing her 'journaling' exercises.

"I've over twenty notebooks of this garbage," she said, smiling, "and I gave her the notebooks to read. After she went through some of them, she told me 'Wow, now I feel great.' I asked her, 'Why?' She replied with, 'Now I know that a published writer can write such shit.' Around the room, smiles broke out, indicating acceptance of using 'writing rubbish to clear rubbish out.' Five minutes later Margaret called out: "STOP." And we stopped writing. Strangely, I remember feeling exhausted after this exercise. Then it was time to begin learning about character development.

"Writing is a lonely process,” she said looking at her class. "When you build characters that you might not like, go for it, even if it is scary," she said as we plunged into an interesting second day full of exercises, readings, critiques, and smiles.

"My way of embracing the lonely aspect of writing - I embrace my characters. I talk with the 15 characters appearing in my book," she explained as we got down to tackling an exercise in developing a character.

Later, different aspects of writing dominated the remains of the Fontainhas evening. Time had closed out yesterday's session rather quickly, I thought, remembering the details as I looked up the road for signs of other participants. It was about time for the third and final day of the workshop, today, to begin.

Note: Margaret's Home Page.


drips of paint said...

I enjoy reading this, anil ... thanks

but Magarat's interview page is no more... link to somewhere esle.

Anil P said...

Drips of Paint: Thanks for flagging me on that. The Interview page seems to have been taken off the server. I've updated to reflect it. Thanks.